Argentina Forces Cunard Cruise Ship to Lower British Flag

February 13, 2014

(10:00 a.m. EST) -- A Cunard cruise ship ran afoul of authorities in Argentina after it sailed into the port of Buenos Aires flying the British flag.

According to reports, Queen Victoria's captain was told she would face a substantial fine if she didn't lower the flag -- a red ensign, representing Britain's merchant marine fleet.

A spokeswoman for Cunard confirmed the incident, which took place in late January, saying: "As requested by the port authorities, whilst Queen Victoria was in Argentinian waters, the Cunard flag was flown, in this instance, rather than the ensign."

Britian's Foreign & Commonwealth Office responded to the incident with a statement accusing the Argentine government of "unacceptable harassment and intimidation," and saying: “We are urgently discussing the matter with Carnival UK and will raise this with the Argentine authorities.”

Tension between the U.K. and Argentina has been high since 2012 -- the 30th anniversary of 1982's Falklands War -- and a number of cruise ships have been affected.

The incident also comes just over a year after protests in Buenos Aires culminated in an attack on the offices of the Argentine Shipping Services.

Channel 4 quoted former head of the Royal Navy and veteran of the Falklands campaign, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, who was onboard Queen Victoria at the time, who said: "After we'd gone round Cape Horn I was at dinner with the captain, and the captain said to me that when they were in Buenos Aires that the ship had basically been threatened with a very punitive fine – about 10,000 US dollars – and also told there would be 'trouble' in inverted commas – not specified – if he didn't take down the red ensign which the ship flies."

Disruption to shipping in the region is tied to the Gaucho Rivero Bill, a provincial law voted by the local legislatures from the provinces of Tierra del Fuego, Santa Cruz, Chubut, Rio Negro and Buenos Aires. The legislation -- impeding access to the ports of these provinces -- refers mainly to British or convenience-flagged vessels involved in the Falklands' hydrocarbons industry, but local unions, politicians and other groups have, in recent years, extended the interpretation to include cruise ships.

A referendum addressing the Falklands' sovereignty that went forward in March 2013, saw the 3,000 island residents reject Argentine efforts to claim ownership over the disputed archipelago -- and support continued British rule.

Cunard's Queen Victoria is currently on a 116-night world cruise.

--By Jamey Bergman, UK Production Editor